The era of outdoor politics is over

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The era of outdoor politics is over

The Democratic Party has returned to the National Assembly after 54 days of outdoor rallies. With Chairman Kim Han-gill’s combative rhetoric, promising “around-the-clock legislative work” and “struggles in sleeping bags,” Kim emphasized that his party’s fighting would continue, even though the party was resuming its participation in the National Assembly. The 54-day-long outdoor “struggle” was longer than the record set by President Park Geun-hye when she was leading the Grand National Party’s 53-day-long boycott from December 2005 to January 2006. We can only imagine the hardship the Democratic Party lawmakers had to endure, sleeping outside Seoul City Hall for so long. However, it is unclear what the Democratic Party has gained through the protest.

During the outdoor protest, public support for the Democratic Party did not go up, and they failed to make President Park apologize for the National Security Service’s postings on the Internet. The Saenuri Party did not guarantee it will cooperate on the policies and bills that Democratic Party is proposing, and even the internal leadership has not gained strength. In short, little has changed since the outdoor protests began on Aug. 1.

There must be a variety of reasons for why the Democratic Party failed in its high-profile struggle, but the most fundamental reason is that the outside protest movement is an obsolete tactic. Outdoor rallies are a powerful tactic that an opposition party can use when a ruling party with a majority in the Assembly tramples over the opposition and unilaterally pushes ahead with disputed bills. Street protests are an alternative form of politics for the vulnerable, giving up hope on the National Assembly because of tyrannical actions by the ruling party, trying to assert power directly from the citizens.

Regardless of the justification, Korean citizens despise powerful parties arrogantly bullying the opposition. In the past, outdoor protests would win the sympathy of the public and pressure the ruling party to make concessions to the opposition. That used to be the standard procedure in Korean politics.

However, circumstances began to change with the 19th National Assembly, which began in 2012. The Saenuri Party has the majority of seats, but it no longer can pass any bill without the cooperation of the Democratic Party due to the National Assembly Advancement Act, which was enacted in May 2012. With the act, the Speaker has lost the power to force votes in the Assembly over the objections of the opposition. If the opposition party boycotts a session, the National Assembly cannot open. Now, outdoors protests are no longer just passive resistance but an active attack, similar to the union at Hyundai Motor stopping the production line in order to pressure the management.

Therefore, it is no exaggeration to consider today’s Democratic Party as a “most formidable opposition party,” on par with the Grand National Party of 2002. Most citizens are not convinced that the opposition needed to walk out when it had the power to block nearly everything in the Assembly anyway; and the protests have not gained much sympathy and support.

The Democratic Party leadership know the reality of the situation. But they failed to overcome the calls to rally outdoors by certain factions of the party, those who initiated the candlelight protests; they were pushed out to the street, only to return empty-handed. “We will return to the National Assembly and stage an intense struggle within the National Assembly unprecedented in history,” Kim promised. But he should have brought his party back long ago. The principle of party politics is to fight over policies within the National Assembly. The opposition is now powerful enough to suffocate the ruling party through “law-abiding struggles.” The era of the outdoor struggle should end here.

*The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY Kim Jung-ha
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